Friday, November 21, 2008

A couple of Book Reviews

In recent weeks I’ve read a couple of books that have got me thinking – an unpleasant experience at the best of times. They’ve got me thinking about people and how I would like to do portraits. I’m not good enough to capture a likeness in a quick sketch – and I think that’s a good thing. I would have to take time to “see” the person – to get “the idea” of the person – before I could paint them.

These books portray people by taking the time to look more deeply into their stories.

Broken Biscuits by Liz Kettle

This is a story about Jodie and her senile grandmother, Agnes.

Jodie is an odd character – like many you see from time to time. This story examines, through the story of Agnes, how she got that way. As Agnes travels back through time in her failing memory, we see the emergence of Jodie and the seeds of destruction that were sown into her life.

At first, I found Agnes’s story confusing – until I realised it was being told backwards. It’s as if she remembers something recent, and then goes further back to make sense of that, and then further back again … and so on. Once you get the hang of it, it works well!

Jodie’s story, on the other hand, seems to inch forward. She, too, looks back, but it seems more like random access memory. You wish for things to change for her – and they do – delightfully so - but it’s a slow and painful process.

It’s so easy to form opinions and judgements about other people and about ourselves, without understanding the story that has been unfolding – often through generations. For me, reading this book was like walking through an old house and looking at the portraits on the walls, with the author being the tour guide filling in some of the back-story.

This is sometimes a grim story, but also at times amusing and endearing. It describes a world that few of us know, but far too many do. I’ve only ever touched on that world and, frankly, it scared me. But that’s mainly because I don’t understand it (though more now than I used to). This book gives that world some humanity, and tells the story of the people who live there.

Black Boxes by Caroline Smailes

Ana is trapped in her own room, slowly falling apart after an intense and unrequited relationship with Alex. Her children, Pip and Davie, are left to fend for themselves. As Ana’s story unfolds we begin to see the tangled web of relationships that became so unmanageable and destructive for her.

The layout and structure of the book is unusual and could lead to the storyline being fragmented and interest being constantly interrupted. Instead, it’s like a relentless series of jabs and punches that leave you reeling but helpless to know how to fight back … just how Ana feels.

Language plays an important part in the book … sign language, backwards-spoken language and the etymology of words. The communication is used to reveal to those in the know, and to conceal from others. Nothing is straightforward between the people in this book. Games are being played, but they are games of manipulation and control, leading to degradation and ultimately death.

It has some of the grimness of a fairy tale (there are numerous allusions to fairy tales) where the story sounds romantic on the surface (the princess locked in the tower waiting for rescue) but it soon becomes apparent that stories such as these are not at all what they seem – they are dark tales that disturb you long after the telling has ended.

With stories in the media about child abuse this book is timely. On the surface it is like many other stories – relationship failure, depression, neglect, tragedy. An open and shut case. But Caroline Smailes opens the case and unpacks it – piece by piece - taking a long, hard, uncomfortable look at each piece of the story and laying it out for all to see.

It would be ‘nice’ if the story had a sudden, redemptive twist - Hollywood fashion. But it doesn’t cop out like that.

I was left with the feeling that the ball had been batted firmly into my court.

Comments:
Thanks, Peter. I just ran out of reading material and now have some good leads thanks to you!
 
You're welcome Andrea - challenging reads, though!
 
Thank you, muchly. x
 
tbh i thought broken biscuits barely scratched the surface
 
Caroline : glad too ... love what you're doing.

Anonymous : you may well be right ... but it was about as much as I could handle!
 
Picked this up at my local library as I liked the front cover of the biscuit...sounds weird I know.But I read the first couple of pages but didn't really grasp it.So I gave up with it.
 
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я люблю своего психолога!!!!я по-настоящему влюбилась . у меня давно такого не было.он такой сексуальный и обалденно красивый! и как человек он просто очень мне нравится. ja shozhu s uma и не могу думать больше ни о чем кроме него .,он мне снитса постоянно, вообще что-то со мной не в порядке стало как только его увидела, только и думаю о нем, а он ничего не замечает,а уже несколько месяцев прошло! дело в том что мы общаемся неско раз в неделю, он старше меня... а я не могу, один раз я не выдержу и.... но нет я не смогу, кто я для него, так хочется ближе к нему, так хочется до него дотронуться, все время ето крутится в голове ето, хочу просто почувствовать его, прижаться к нему, ето просто невыносимо сидеть так близко и спокойно разговаривать с ним, когда внутри все горит....

что делать??
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